Improving Sentences

Part of the following sentence is underlined; beneath the sentence are five ways of phrasing the underlined material. Select the option that produces the best sentence. If you think the original phrasing produces a better sentence than any of the alternatives, select choice A. 

The first time through, read the sentence to see if anything "pops." Then check that against English grammar rules to see what is actually wrong and how to fix it. Finally, compare that prediction to the answer choices to find the correct answer.

A major abstract expressionist painter, Willem de Kooning is best known for having controversial paintings of women.

(To diagram this sentence, change the subject to either Willem or Kooning, move it to the beginning of the sentence, and remove "best.")

Even if you don't know what "abstract expressionism" is--I don't--you can infer that it was some kind of artistic movement, and that the specific type of movement is unimportant.

The underlined section is only two words long, including a preposition (for) and a gerund, (having). A gerund looks like a verb and acts like an noun. If you want to get really technical, the entire gerund phrase "having controversial paintings" is the object of the preposition "for." Grammatically, this sentence is fine, so look instead at what it says: An important painter is known for owning paintings of women. Does that make sense? If you were talking about painters and paintings, wouldn't it be more interesting to discuss the paintings in connection to their creators, not their owners? It would, so look for an answer choice that conveys that meaning.

A) for having

B) for the

C) for his

D) because he had

E) because he made

Eliminate A immediately, and cross D out as well since it conveys the same idea in more words. B is so vague that it would detract from the sentence, so eliminate it as well. You are left with C and E. E has the word "made," but "because" sounds needlessly wordy and a trifle childish here. C might seem no better than A at first, but plug it into the sentence:

A major abstract expressionist painter, Willem de Kooning is best known for his controversial paintings of women.

In the context of the sentence, "his" clearly refers to the paintings Kooning created, not just the ones he happened to own. This construction is idiomatic, and it is almost always used in the context of art. The answer is C.

On, 80% of responses were correct.

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